Justice Department Announces New Initiative to Fight Opioid Fraud

An opioid user preparing to shoot up / Getty Images
August 2, 2017

The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced a new program to combat opioid-related health care fraud that contributes to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Speaking at the Columbus Police Academy in Ohio, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the program, which will use data to target doctors and other medical professionals who are contributing to the opioid epidemic through fraudulent behavior.

"This sort of data analytics team can tell us important information about prescription opioids—like which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor's patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues," Sessions said.

The program will also fund 12 assistant U.S. attorneys specifically for investigating and prosecuting fraud, "including pill mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids for illegitimate purposes." These attorneys will cover districts in 12 states, nine of which the CDC identifies as having had statistically significant increases in their overdose death rates between 2014 and 2015.

The prosecutors will work alongside the FBI, DEA, HHS, and state and local law enforcement.

"With these new resources, we will be better positioned to identify, prosecute, and convict some of the individuals contributing to these tens of thousands of deaths a year. The Department is determined to attack this opioid epidemic, and I believe these resources will make a difference," Sessions said.

Health care fraud has been a priority of the Justice Department under Sessions. Three weeks ago, the department announced that it had charged more than 400 people for a combined $1.3 billion in health care fraud. That included 120 people, including doctors, whose charges related to prescribing and distributing opioids and other narcotics fraudulently.